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How is Energy Made in the United States?

Almost everything we do in the United States requires electricity. You’re even using electricity to read this blog. In fact, the average American household uses 10,715 kilowatt hours (kWh) a year! But do you actually know how electricity is produced? This blog will cover where energy comes from and how it’s produced.

How Energy is Made

Most electricity— including that produced by fossil fuels and nuclear— is generated by heating up water, which creates steam to then turn a turbine. The turbine is connected to a generator, which produces energy via a magnetic field. This happens because magnetic fields pull and push electrons, which produce an electric current.

However, other forms of electricity generation technologies such as gas turbines, hydro turbines, wind turbines, and solar photovoltaics (PVs) do not rely on steam turbines for their power production. Solar PVs actually directly convert sunlight into energy. You can learn more about how photovoltaics create energy in our blog Photovoltaic Electricity: The Science Behind Solar Projects.

Makeup of Our Grid

According to the Energy Information Agency (EIA), fossil fuels accounted for 60.6% of the total electricity production in the U.S. during 2020. Nuclear power was responsible for 19.7% of the electricity production while renewables were responsible for 19.8%. Unfortunately, solar makes up less than 3% of this mix. 

This means that the majority of our electricity comes from sources that create greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide or CO2, which cause climate change. The majority of this production comes from natural gas. Even though it’s known to be less polluting than coal, natural gas produces carbon– in the magnitude of 116.65 pounds of CO2 per million BTUs (british thermal units) of natural gas burned. BTUs are a measure of how much energy a fuel can produce. That means that we’re still creating carbon emissions from electricity, which contribute to health and climate risks.

Let’s put this into perspective. We will convert the statistic from the top of the blog of “10,715 kilowatt hours (kWh) a year” to BTUs.  This tells us that the average household in the U.S. uses an average of 36.6 million BTUs per year! That means that you are pushing more than 4,269.39 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere annually from your residential energy use alone. 

Unfortunately, if we continue to rely on fossil fuels to create electricity, the associated risks will continue to grow as other sectors like transportation turn to electrification in an effort to reduce their own emissions. 

Future of the Grid: Electrification 

“Electrification refers to the process of replacing technologies that use fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) with technologies that use electricity as a source of energy,” as defined by Resources For the Future. This is specifically referring to emissions from the transportation, building, and industrial sectors. One of the most notable and popular forms of electrification is electric vehicles (EVs) that don’t require fossil fuels like gasoline or diesel to be powered up.

In 2020, we saw a 67% increase in electric vehicle purchases in the U.S. compared to 2019. The switch to hybrid and electric vehicles is expected to grow even more! This is an indication that we are moving towards an electrified economy, especially when it comes to transportation. This is great news, considering transportation contributed the most of any sector to greenhouse gas emissions in 2019. However, switching to lower-emitting vehicles puts a larger strain on our electricity grid, which as we know is still mostly powered by fossil fuels. As more vehicles get plugged in rather than fueled up, we need to ensure that we’re also cleaning up the electricity grid. This will decrease the overreliance of fossil fuels and accelerate the transition to build more renewable energy capacity that keeps up with this growing demand. 

Renewable Energy for a Decarbonized Economy

We need to make electricity carbon free to support a truly decarbonized economy. Solar and wind emit 0 pounds of CO2! Thensures the electricity used to power new technologies is just as sustainable as the technologies themselves. 

This is why it is so important to build more solar! Clearloop is dedicated to not only building more solar capacity, but building it in areas where it will have the most impact. Targeting areas with the more carbon intense grids and with a need for economic development and growth allows us to make solar do more. 

Want to learn more about how your company can reclaim your carbon footprint and expand access to clean energy with Clearloop? Drop us a note at hello@clearloop.us or set up a meeting.

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